Friday, April 15, 2011

Do scientists and creationists simply look through different glasses?

I recently posted about a supposed "dinosaur" petroglyph at Kachina Bridge Natural Bridges National Monument in southeastern Utah.  The post inspired a couple of comments from people I assume to be young-Earth creationists (YEC) eager to find evidence for their crazy belief that the Earth is only a couple thousand years old and dinosaurs and humans cavorted together in the "pre-flood" world (many even claim dinosaurs were on Noah's Ark).

Anyway, someone named Geoff C. posted the following comment to my post which I think is deserving of more discussion than I can give in the comments area of the original post.  He wrote:

The picture labeled "Dr. Senter's interpretation" says it all. He believes it's impossible that humans could have seen dinosaurs, so has to "interpret" the petroglyph according to this preconceived idea. Both creationists and evolutionists look at the same evidence, but interpret it according to the "glasses" they wear.

This is actually a very common YEC position.  It's featured, for example, at Answers in Genesis (AIG), Ken Ham's reality-denying organization that runs the infamous Creation Museum in Kentucky (where they're also planning to build a full size Noah's Ark).

Here's a typical AIG claim from their online literature:

Creationists and evolutionists, Christians and non-Christians, all have the same facts. Think about it: we all have the same earth, the same fossil layers, the same animals and plants, the same stars—the facts are all the same.

The difference is in the way we all interpret the facts. And why do we interpret facts differently? Because we start with different presuppositions; these are things that are assumed to be true without being able to prove them. These then become the basis for other conclusions

Sounds reasonable, doesn't it?  To a certain degree, it's true.  Mainstream scientists and young-Earth creationists look at the same evidence but come up with different interepretations.  Philosophers will agree that we all operate under certain presuppositions.

So is it entirely reasonable to consider YEC interpretations of fossils (or petroglyphs) alongside those of mainstream scientists?  Don't we need to give "equal-time" to their views?  Isn't it horribly unfair that in, for example, my geology classes I never consider YEC interpretations of evidence?

No, no, no, and no!  People who make this claim are either ignorant of what science is and how it works or intentionally dishonest. The two glasses we look through are more like these:

The glasses of mainstream science metaphorically compared
to the glasses of YEC (with apologies to Elton John).

Interpretations of evidence, like glasses, aren't all equivalent.  Some are just nuts.

First of all, is the YEC interpretation as simple as the cartoon above indicates?  Do they look at evidence, filter it through the Bible, and then come to a conclusion?  Not really.  They filter it through their rather specific interpretation of the Bible.  Is it the Roman Catholic interpretation of the Bible - the world's largest Christian denomination with over a billion claimed members?  Maybe it's the Protestant interpretation?  Oh wait, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Protestant denominations (hard to get an accurate count since it depends on your definitions).  Why all the denominations?  They each interpret the Bible differently on important matters of faith and practice!  What about groups like the Mormons?  What about Jewish interpretation of Hebrew Scripture?  What about Muslim interpretation?  What about what the Buddhists or Hindus or Sihks or Jains, or whatever?  What about Native American or Aboriginal or Maori or Bantu or Inuit origin stories.

Not all presuppositions have equal validity!

In other words, there are an untold number of creation stories from every culture around the world.  Why are we to believe a 20th century interpretation (YEC is a 20th century phenomenon, not an orthodox belief through much of church history) of some lines of poetry in a book that arose among some Hebrew bedouins (who were clearly influenced by earlier Mesopotamian origin myths)?  What makes this one "literally" true and the others false?  Just because it's your cultural myth and you really believe strongly in it?  Join the club of several billion other humans who have their own deeply held beliefs that differ from yours.

The bottom line is that YECs take observations and then try to shoehorn them into a preexisting belief system.  They freely admit this!  Just read AIG's Statement of Faith - especially Section 4, number 6:

By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record.

Can't express your bias any more clearly than that!  Go to the Geological Society of America (GSA), the American Physical Society (APS), the American Chemical Society (ACS), the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), or the Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE).  Do these professional scientific organizations have statements of faith?

I teach a bit about the historical development of geology.  When geology began as a science (a gradual process beginning in the 1600s), the early researchers generally believed in the historicity of the Bible.  Nicolas Steno, the "father of stratigraphy" became a Roman Catholic Bishop and was beatified by Pope John II in 1987 (pray to Steno, receive a miracle, and maybe he'll end up the patron saint of geologists).

Through the work of people like Steno and others, the idea that the Earth was only a few thousand years old became completely untenable by the mid-1700s (a century before Darwin published!).  Why?  Not because of any preconceived ideas about how the world should be (e.g. a literal reading of the few few chapters of Genesis), but by actually getting out and crawling on rocks AND THINKING ABOUT WHAT IT IS THEY SAW!  Geologists were forced to come to one of two conclusions - either God created a world that produced all kinds of independent lines of evidence that the Earth was ancient (which raises all types of theological issues) or the Earth really was ancient and maybe those ancient bronze-age poems weren't meant to be taken literally.

Let's not also forget that YECs have a long and dishonorable history of selective picking of evidence (ignoring whatever doesn't fit their preconceptions), outright lying, selective misquoting of real scientists and scientific papers, and a complete lack of expertise or formal academic training in the areas they write about (some YECs even have fraudulent credential from mail-order Bible colleges).  Peruse the Talk Origins archives for numerous examples.

Here's a real example (large PDF file) of a typical scientific research paper on a fossil organism by a University of Chicago paleontologist.  Take a look and compare it to any of the tripe put out by creation "scientists" that they call research.

So, back to Geoff C.'s comment:

The picture labeled "Dr. Senter's interpretation" says it all. He believes it's impossible that humans could have seen dinosaurs, so has to "interpret" the petroglyph according to this preconceived idea. Both creationists and evolutionists look at the same evidence, but interpret it according to the "glasses" they wear.

Dr. Senter is basing his interpretation on the fact that he has a PhD in the field, studied the petroglyph and published his results in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and is basing his interpretation on the fact that hundreds of years of tens of thousands of published geologic studies have shown conclusively and without a doubt (to anyone but Biblical literalists) that dinosaurs died out tens of millions of years before humans evolved from hominid apes in East Africa.  Geoff C. and other creationists are basing their interpretation on the fact that they believes a specific interpretation of the Bible is "true" and they believe this will support their worldview.

These aren't equivalent.  Not even close.


  1. Thanks for this and the earlier post.
    I am college educated, Northeast-raised, in a standard scientific milieu. But in college I found Jesus and YEC. Years later I am re-examining my easily-adopted YEC assumptions and posts like yours and Dr. Senter's article are really helpful in cutting through the haze.

    I am still a Jesus believer, but have been adopting a more mythical understanding of Genesis 1-2:3, because in fact not just regarding origins but in numerous respects, it does not hold with the world as modern man sees it. But it holds great with the world as ancient man may have seen it (flat earth, solid dome for a sky, rain falls through windows in said dome etc.)

    Anyway, thanks.

    1. Before you go there,please look into 'Evolution's Achilles' Heels'.15 Scientists debunk every myth of evolution.Also,it is impossible to believe on the LORD Jesus Christ as Savior and that He is the Son of God,if you don't believe the Genesis account.